These Dietitian-Approved High-Fiber Snacks Will Keep Your Stomach from Rumbling
Based on the exponential number of macronutrient calculators on the internet and foods that brag about their high protein or healthy fat content, it might seem like scoring a balance of protein, carbs, and fats is the end-all, be-all of nutrition.
But in fixating solely on these macros, you could be missing out on other key nutrients, including fiber. "If I could tell people one thing, it's to focus on fiber more so than anything else," says Alex Caspero, M.A., R.D., a registered dietitian and plant-based chef in St. Louis, Missouri. "If you're focusing on fiber, you're likely eating a lot more plant foods, which we know have vast benefits to health. But only about 1 in 10, on average, Americans get enough fiber every day." More specifically, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends adults following a 2,000-calorie diet consume at least 28 grams of fiber per day. The average American nabs just two-thirds of that, according to a recent study published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition.
Luckily for those folks who aren't yet hitting that quota, noshing on high-fiber snacks is an easy way to start upping intake. Here, Caspero and other R.D.s share their tips on adding fiber-packed munchies into your routine and the health perks of doing so.
The Health Benefits of High-Fiber Snacks
Reminder: Fiber is the part of plant foods (think: fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, and legumes) that your body can't digest. As such, it passes through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out your rear relatively intact, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are two distinct types of fiber: soluble fiber (which dissolves in water — forming a gel-like material — and which can help reduce blood cholesterol and glucose levels), and insoluble fiber (which doesn't dissolve, adds bulk to stool, and helps you stay regular), according to the Clinic.
A good way to tell which type of fiber a food primarily provides is to imagine what it would do if you put it in water, says Ashley Munro, M.P.H., R.D., a certified intuitive eating counselor in Tucson, Arizona. An oat soaking in water is going to puff up, swell, and dissolve a bit — like soluble fiber — while a carrot is going to remain intact, much like insoluble fiber, she explains. You'll want to score a mix of both types of fibers each day, but it's not worth stressing yourself out over, says Munro. "You don't need to focus on fiber types, specifically," she explains. "I think with anything, [eating] a variety of foods will help you have a natural balance of the types of fibers." And doing so will help you reap a few key health benefits.
It Keeps Your Bowel Movements Regular
If it's been a few days since you last dropped a deuce, you may want to look at how much fiber is on your plate. "A lot of people suffer from constipation, hemorrhoids, bloating, and cramping, and these are all things that are related to not having enough fiber in the diet," says Caspero. The reason: Insoluble fiber increases the weight and size of your stool while softening it, which makes it easier to pass and reduces the odds of constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic. (BTW, your diet may be just one reason why you're dealing with quarantine constipation.)
It Lowers LDL Cholesterol Levels
All the fiber, specifically the soluble kind, found in fiber-rich snacks such as a nut-heavy trail mix or a pear can help lower low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels, says Caspero. "Imagine fiber as like a web moving through your intestinal tract — it helps trap things that you don't necessarily want in there, [such as] LDL cholesterol particles," she explains. "Fiber can help reduce as it moves its way through the colon." And this perk of noshing on high-fiber snacks is important, as high levels of LDL cholesterol can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It Keeps Blood Sugar Levels Stable
Incorporating fiber-rich ingredients into a meal or snack can help keep your blood sugar levels in check after you've finished munching, says Caspero. "Fiber is really helpful for slowing down the uptake of the sugar that we're ingesting and that we need for energy throughout the day," adds Munro. For example, it'll take your body longer to digest a fiber-rich orange than it would to break down a glass of OJ, which is devoid of the nutrient, says Caspero. That slower digestion rate also means blood sugar levels rise slower and lower. This is particularly important for folks who have trouble managing their blood glucose and those with insulin resistance (when the body stops responding to insulin — the hormone that helps glucose enter cells and lowers the amount in the bloodstream), says Munro.
It Promotes Satiety
When your stomach is rumbling nonstop but dinner isn't for another few hours, a high-fiber snack can help tide you over. Fiber-rich foods are often more satiating than ones lacking in the nutrient, as soluble fiber absorbs water in your stomach and swells, increasing its volume and making you feel fuller for longer, according to research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. This can also be beneficial for folks who are looking to lose or maintain weight, says Caspero, as the nutrient's ability to boost satisfaction may lead you to eat less during a meal.
Who Can Benefit From Eating a High-Fiber Snack?
Given those grim stats on fiber intake in the U.S., Caspero says practically everyone can benefit from scoring more of the nutrient, such as through high-fiber snacks and meals. That said, you won't want your intake to go from zero to 100 real quick. "If you're not used to fiber, and all of a sudden you go from 10 grams of fiber today to 50 grams of fiber a day, you're going to get a lot of cramping, you're going to probably get some digestive issues," says Caspero. Instead, you'll want to slowly ramp up your consumption over time to avoid any GI upset, she suggests.
On the same token, it's best to spread your fiber intake throughout the day (i.e. a few grams at each meal and snack), rather than cramming it all in at one meal, to make it most tolerable for your gut, says Munro. "Anyone that's eaten a whole cup of broccoli or a whole plate of vegetables knows the ramifications of maybe eating too much fiber at one time, and it can cause some havoc on your stomach," she says. (Related: Fresh Ways to Sneak More Fiber Into Your Diet)
When you start incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your diet, Munro also suggests staying on top of your fluid intake. "Anytime you increase the amount of fiber you're eating, you're also going to want to drink a lot of water because that's how fiber moves through your system," she explains. Without enough H2O or other fluid, the fiber may lead your digestive system to slow down too much, potentially causing constipation, bloating, or nausea, says Munro. To prevent those uncomfy side effects, try pairing your high-fiber snack with a cup of your fluid of choice, she recommends.
What to Look for In a High-Fiber Snack
When scouting out high-fiber snacks to stash in your fridge and pantry, Munro recommends choosing ones that have at least 3 grams of the nutrient per serving, which will help you make a dent on your daily quota. Some snack bars are fortified with fiber, using ingredients like chicory root, to help you get your fill, but Caspero suggests sticking with whole food sources the majority of the time. "I'm not against those bars, but they shouldn't be used as an everyday source of fiber," she says.
The reason: Many of the pre-packaged snacks with added fiber also contain added sugar or sugar alcohols, which you wouldn't find in an equally fiber-rich munchie like an apple, says Caspero. And though these bites may be loaded with fiber, they often don't offer the same package of good-for-you nutrients that's often found in whole foods, says Caspero. Oatmeal, for example, offers fiber, protein, and beta-glucans that help lower LDL cholesterol, while fruits and veggies contain fiber, anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, and important vitamins and minerals, she explains. "You're not going to get the same benefits from eating a Fiber One bar with 13 grams of fiber as you would get from eating a cup and a half of raspberries," says Caspero.
To help you choose the best munchies on the market, Caspero and Munro are sharing the high-fiber snacks they always have on their shopping list. Be warned: You'll want to add all of them to your snack stockpile.